This week New York City plays host to a seven-day festival with events spread across the city. However this is not a festival in celebration of music, art, or theater but a celebration of, as the organizers phrase it, everything ‘internet-y’.
Internet Week boasts almost 200 events, including exhibits, seminars, and instillations. By dedicating a whole week to such festivities it appears that the Internet has reached a status of incomparable heights. How many rock stars or artists could fully pack events for so many consecutive days? Is the Internet really worthy of such limelight, and what exactly is there to celebrate?
The organizers claim that since 2008 Internet Week has been a means to celebrate openness in the Internet and the digital community. In order to assess whether the Internet is worthy of such prominence several arguments made by its most devoted fans need to be taken into consideration.
1) Open access to the web gives more people a voice
With the help of the net it is far easier for people to put their voices and opinions out there in the public sphere. But the question is, is anyone listening? An obvious example of the Internet's potential to get a message across is found in KONY 2012. This film demonstrated the potential of savvy advocacy through the Internet. The film captured 50 million views in two days. Despite its popularity it also drew critics for being narrow minded and not channelling resources directly to Ugandans. However, the point is not whether people agree with the video or not. The point is that the video demonstrated the global participation in an issue that had never before reached that scale.
Now that anyone who has a computer also has the potential to voice their beliefs and values, does it mean everyone is just shouting louder? While open debate is a pillar of democratic society the fact that people can spread their thoughts wider and faster makes it impossible for all opinions to be heard, only a few get through the noise. Therefore are we just back to where we started pre-Internet days?
2) The Internet has increased our access to information
The infinite amount of information at our fingertips means that we can all become better informed individuals. It is easier than ever to find out further information on current issues and topics and therefore become more informed in our political opinions. However, the topics frequently topping most Googled lists are not politics or the economy, but Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian.
3) The Internet has made us more active and able to participate
The web allows for the creation of online communities. Active global communities makes it easier to unite individuals that before were disparate voices in areas that previously may have been hard to influence. Social media was used by 9 out of 10 Tunisians and Egyptians to organize and spread awareness of the protests that became known as the Arab Spring. This "Twitter Revolution" is accredited by some to be central to the uprisings. However, while the Internet facilitated mobilization and encouraged participation it cannot take credit as a causal factor of the social unrest.
Using the Internet is not automatically going to make us all perfectly informed, or politically active and engaged individuals. However depending on how we use it, the Internet is worthy of praise for the fact that it does have the potential to enhance awareness, improve participation, and increase openness. Either that's true, or I have just been talking to myself.